Old West Female Outlaws – Loyal Lovers and Shady Ladies

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The Rose of Cimarron

In this article, we’ll explore the lives of Rose Dunn, also called the Rose of the Cimarron; Kate Elder, or Big Nose Kate; and Baby Doe Tabor. All three of these women had passionate or long-lasting love affairs with men who caused them to be involved in trouble or a scandal. Rose Dunn fell in love with a handsome outlaw, Big Nose Kate was Doc Holiday’s long-time companion, and Baby Doe Tabor became the talk of Colorado when wealthy Horace Tabor divorced his wife of many years to marry her.

The motivation for becoming involved with an outlaw man on the run from the law, a notorious gunslinger, or a powerful millionaire with an eye for the ladies was in each case different.

For Rose Dunn, it was the acquaintanceship of her brothers to the Dalton gang and its members that allowed her to meet and fall in love with George “Bittercreek” Newcomb. If not for this chance meeting, she would probably have led a very predictable life, marrying and settling down with one of the local townsmen. After getting over her dangerous relationship with Newcomb, this is exactly what she did. If Newcomb had lived, Rose would have had been fated for a much different and no doubt unpleasant life as the wife of a man with a price on his head. It makes one wonder how long it would have lasted before she left him.

Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday’s companion, was on the wrong side of the law herself before she ever met up with the charming dentist turned card shark and gunslinger. She had her own shady business of prostitution which she did not plan to give up. Kate was not a woman to be dominated, even though Doc Holliday did his best to make her do his bidding. Theirs was more of a long-term relationship, an unhealthy one. It was based, it appears, on equal portions of dislike and affection. In a way, these two outlaws were good for each other, providing one another with affection and companionship. On the other hand, they were each a bad influence upon the other. Kate put up with much abuse from the handsome and often drunken Doc Holliday and Doc also suffered at the hands of Kate’s retaliation when she turned him into the law for the one crime he probably didn’t commit.

Baby Doe Tabor risked her reputation by marrying millionaire Horace Tabor. No crime was involved except perhaps a crime of the heart. After Tabor divorced his loyal, long-suffering wife of many years to make the beautiful young woman his wife, Baby Doe was completely ostracized by Denver society. By most, Baby Doe was considered to be a young gold-digger. Certainly, the thought of bettering her situation and a chance at the good life weighed in her decision to become involved with this wealthy silver king.

All three of these women faced a good degree of hardship and heartache as a consequence of their choices, and while studying their stories we can speculate as to what motivated them to stay in unhealthy, even dangerous relationships or to risk all for love.

The main sources for this lesson will include WildWomen of the Old West. Riley, Glenda and Etulain, Richard. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Co. 2003 and Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction and Film, Lackmann, Ron McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1997.

The Rose of Cimarron

Pretty Rose Dunn or The Rose of Cimarron, as she is often called, met dashing George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb, a member of the notorious Doolin Gang, through her brothers, who were also outlaws and thieves. The Doolin Gang were an infamous band of outlaws. They were responsible for a series of bank, train and stage robberies during 1891-1896. The Doolin Gang were ruthless and often murdered innocent bystanders. They at times teamed up with the Daltons, who had been lawmen before they turned to crime.

When Grat and Bob Dalton were killed in a bloody ambush in Coffeeville, Kansas in 1892 while trying to pull off a bank robbery, the remainder of the gang scattered. What was left of the Dalton gang eventually merged with Bill Doolin’s gang, which included outlaw George Newcomb. The reassembled gang of ruthless thieves and murderers began a new siege of terror.

It was about this time that the Rose of Cimarron came into the picture. Members of a posse intent upon arresting the gang kept close watch. They concealed themselves in a wagon and rode into the town of Ingalls, Oklahoma. The posse members hid themselves along the street and sent a messenger into the saloon to tell Bill Doolin that he was surrounded and ordered him to surrender. Doolin’s response was, “Go to hell”.

The outlaws in the saloon that day included Bill Dalton, Bill Doolin, George Newcomb, and several other members of the gang. One of the other members, Arkansas Tom, was sick in bed in Mrs. Pierce’s nearby hotel.

Gunfire opened up from the saloon upon the posse. A hail of bullets ensued, and the frightened townspeople all ran for cover. It was here that the Rose of Cimarron performed her daunting act of courage. Rose peered down from the second floor of Mrs. Pierce’s hotel into the street and saw that her lover had only his six-shooter for protection.

She got his Winchester and cartridge belt from the hotel room, intending to deliver it to him. But the posse had surrounded the hotel and there was no means of escape. Rose tore a bed sheet into strips, tied them together into a rope and lowered both herself and the weaponry to the ground.

Rose must have taken a gamble that that the posse would not shoot a woman. Dashing through a hail of gunfire, she ran across the street to deliver the weapon to her lover. She found Newcomb badly wounded, so Rose gave the rifle to another outlaw. With Dalton and Doolin providing cover,the injured Newcomb was loaded on a horse and was taken to safety. Arkansas Tom, sick in bed, was the only outlaw captured that day. The rest of the outlaws escaped, but many of them were seriously wounded in the shootout..

George had a price on his head, and unfortunately, some time later, Rose’s outlaw brothers shot her lover for the reward money. After her lover’s death, Rose retired from crime, and became the wife of an Oklahoma politician and lived the rest of her life as a respected citizen.

Big Nose Kate

Mary Catherine Elder, better known as Big Nose Kate, was Doc Holliday’s woman. Contrary to her nickname, Kate was an attractive woman who didn’t have a particularly large nose. She instead got her nickname because she had a tendency to be nosey and stick her nose into other people’s business.

Kate was of Hungarian descent. She was born Mary Catherine Elder Haroney on November 7th 1850. She was from an affluent family and her father was a doctor who served in Mexico as Emperor Maximillian’s personal surgeon. After the fall of his Maximillian’s empire, the family moved to Iowa. Both of her parents died shortly after and Kate was put in a foster home, but soon ran away. She stowed away on a steam ship and ended up in St. Louis.

The steam ship captain took Kate under his wing and enrolled her in a convent school. For a time, she went by the name of Kate Fisher. Later she married a dentist, Silas Melvin. She had a child, but the marriage was short-lived, as both her new husband and child passed away shortly after.

In 1874 Kate was working in a sporting house for the wife of James Earp, brother of Wyatt Earp. There is speculation that she had an affair with Wyatt Earp. She soon met up with Doc Holliday, and the two of them began a stormy, on again, off again relationship. The two had many disagreements, which caused temporary splits. Kate did not want to give up her work as a prostitute and Doc was a heavy drinker and prone to violence. Though their relationship was stormy, Kate came through for Doc more than once. When Doc killed a man in card game in Ft. Griffin, Texas, and was about to be lynched, Kate set fire to an old shed and helped him escape in the confusion that followed while the townspeople fought the fire.

The two spent some time together, then split up and once more went their separate ways. In 1880 Kate was running a sporting house in Tombstone, Arizona when Doc caught up with her and the two reconciled. She was reported to have been the wife of Doc Holiday, although there are no records of the marriage. Whatever the case of their marital status, Kate called herself “the one and only wife of Doc Holliday.”

Doc’s health problems caused him to become a heavy drinker. He suffered from tuberculosis. Doc would get violent when drunk, and sometimes beat Kate. After such a fight with Doc, he threw her out of his hotel room. Kate, while under the influence of drink, turned Doc in as being part of a recent Wells Fargo stagecoach robbery, in which the driver was killed.

Holliday was arrested on her testimony. After Kate sobered up she recanted her statement and Doc was released. But after that, the two were estranged. Tuberculosis and too much drink finally caught up with Doc. He died in a Glenwood Springs sanitarium in 1887. Kate spent the rest of her life in Arizona, and lived well into her nineties.

Baby Doe Tabor

Baby Doe Tabor ended her life in an old shack near the Matchless mine. In her later years she dressed in men’s cords, mining boots, soiled and torn blouses, her once glorious fair hair wrapped carelessly in blue bandana. When she could no longer afford boots, she took to wearing gunny sacks wrapped around her feet to protect them from the cold of a Leadville, Colorado winter. Quite a change from the beautiful woman who had once worn diamonds and dazzling silk and taffeta gowns to a private box seat at the opulent Taber Opera house.

Baby Doe was never a madam or a prostitute or even a gambler. Yet she became immersed in the scandal of the century. Her only crime appears to have been falling in love with the wrong man, an older, married man, a wealthy one, at that. At the time of their meeting, Horace Tabor was already on his way to becoming the wealthiest man in Colorado.

Baby Doe was born Elizabeth Nellie McCourt in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. At 5’4 with blonde hair she was early recognized as a stunning beauty. She attracted the attention of the son of an affluent local family when she dared to be the only girl to sign up for an ice skating competition, which she won. However, the flash of leg scandalized the small town. She gained her the approval of Harvey Doe and the censure of his mother. Going against his mother’s wishes, the love-struck young lad made Elizabeth his wife. In 1877 the young couple set off for Colorado to run a mine in Central City. But Harvey was weak and couldn’t make a go of it. Even though Elizabeth donned men’s clothing and helped him, the mine failed to turn a profit and Harvey was forced to take a job as a common miner.

Elizabeth and her husband soon drifted apart and she was befriended by a younger man named Jake Sandelowsky. She went with Jake to the Shoo-Fly, an establishment not often frequented by respectable married women. In 1879 her husband had all but abandoned her. Jake was on hand to help her and pay the bills when she gave birth to a stillborn baby. In 1880, she divorced Harvey. However, because of a court mixup the divorce was not final until 1886.

It is believed Jake wanted to marry her, but it is unknown whether the two of them were lovers or remained friends. At any rate, Elizabeth did not want to marry him as he gambled too much and ran a clothing store like her father. It was at this point in her life that, after moving to Leadville, Colorado, Elizabeth met the powerful Horace Tabor. She became his mistress and later on the two wished to marry.

When Tabor divorced his wife of many years, Augusta, Baby Doe was considered a gold digger. An invitations to their wedding was returned torn in half by the wife of a promient citizen and even after she and Horace were properly married, Baby Doe was snubbed by Denver society.

Tabor, a powerful and influential man, had holdings in silver mines throughout Colorado as well as other investments. He built the Tabor Opera House in Denver. They had two children nicknamed Lillie and Silver Dollar. The couple Lived opulently until silver panic of 1893 bankrupted them almost overnight. They took out mortgages on their mines, but were unable to pay their debts. Even the opera house had to be sold. Tabor managed to get a job as postmaster of Leadville, where he worked until 1899. He became ill and on his deathbed told Baby Doe, “Hang on to the Matchless. It will make millions again.”

There are many tales of women going from rags to riches, but Baby Doe went from riches to rags. Though Baby Doe had been scorned as an opportunist, she was faithful to her husband to the end, and even beyond the grave. She followed his advice and refused to sell their final holding, the Matchless Mine, even though it did not bring in enough to support her and the two children. Her children eventually drifted off, and Baby Doe was left alone. In 1935, she was found dead in her cabin. It is believed she either died of a heart attack of froze to death.

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